The information technology industry has become used to a stunning pace of development – consistently doubling performance in terms of speed and storage capacity every couple of years. But the switch from dial-up to broadband Internet dwarfs this rate of change with an improvement in performance by a factor of about 40 or 50.

The “broadband era” has only just begun, with 100 million subscribers connected to broadband services being achieved in 2004. Yet by 2010, the current form of broadband, with restrictions on the volume of data that can be downloaded in a given period, is expected to be overtaken by “bandwidth on demand”. In other words, we are rapidly moving to a time when there will be no practical limit to the speed or volume of data that can be transmitted and received at very low cost over the Internet. As bandwidth on demand becomes widespread, it will mean huge changes and great opportunities in some areas of business.

"Digitage Web 2.0" by Ocean Flynn ex Flickr
“Digitage Web 2.0” by Ocean Flynn ex Flickr

Some areas in which bandwidth on demand could have a big impact include:

Telephony

The cost of adding telephone services to an Internet broadband connection is almost zero and the distance of the call makes no difference at all. As a result, we can expect very low cost VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephone services. Already, companies such as Skype (www.skype.com) are offering free voice calls between their subscribers, regardless of the length of the call, the location of the caller or the distance involved; subscribers can make very low cost, untimed calls to landline telephones in most countries and to mobile phones in some countries.

Education and Training

Training, including video communication in both directions, can easily be delivered at low cost over broadband. Not only does this mean changes and opportunities for existing educational institutions but businesses wishing to provide training to staff, associates and clients, located anywhere in the world, will be easily able to do so.

Medicine

Bandwidth on demand is capable of transforming the delivery of many medical services. For example, check-ups and initial diagnoses could be done from home and specialist opinions could be obtained from anywhere in the world with the specialist having full and immediate access to patient records, scans and reports.

Home Safety and Security

Broadband users could watch and control their homes while at work or on holidays anywhere in the world. This has great potential to assist those caring for invalids and the elderly who could easily be monitored.

Entertainment

The ability to deliver unlimited data over the Internet has enormous implications for the entertainment industry. Already services such as Shoutcast (www.shoutcast.com) and Real Media (www.real.com) offer a choice of many thousands of radio stations over the Internet. Predictions are that there will eventually be over 200,000 television stations available over broadband. On-line, real-time games involving thousands, or even millions, of players from all over world could become the norm.

On-line Trading

Future on-line auctions and other on-line trading could include voice and video communication between the seller and potential buyers. This could well begin sooner, rather than later, with eBay being the owner of the Skype service mentioned above.

These developments which are already underway are just the tip of the iceberg. The real impact will be in areas that cannot yet be predicted.

The OECD has warned that countries which do not adopt this technology are in danger of missing opportunities for economic, social and cultural development. The same warning applies to individual businesses.